Jerusalem: A city divided

Jews and Arabs express matching pride and antipathy, respectively, about a city that clearly remains divided.

Jerusalem street 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem street 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
On the eve of the capital’s 46th annual Jerusalem Day – held against a backdrop of disparate quality-of-life reports representing the western and eastern sides of Jerusalem – Jews and Arabs expressed matching pride and antipathy, respectively, about a city that clearly remains divided.
Indeed, while a Monday Central Bureau of Statistics report portrayed Jerusalem as a hotbed of economic and social growth, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel also released a study portraying east Jerusalem as a social and economic quagmire.
According to the CBS report, 91 percent of Jerusalem residents stated that they are satisfied, or very satisfied, living in the capital, which has generated 50,000 jobs over four years.
Conversely, the ACRI report showed that 79.5% of east Jerusalem residents and 85% of children there live below the poverty line, which it claims is the highest rate ever recorded.
“I am Palestinian, so for me, Jerusalem Day means nothing,” said Avraham Gulhni, a taxi driver, while standing next to his cab in east Jerusalem on Monday afternoon. “It’s for the Jews. For me, it’s a black day.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, Ortal, a Jewish courthouse secretary, who requested her last name not be published, said Jerusalem Day, first inaugurated following the Six Day War, was a particularly happy and proud time for her.
“I love to be here and live here and appreciate it so much because it’s a small place that everyone wants and fights over,” she said, while eating lunch with a friend.
“So it’s very important that we have this place to raise our kids, work and live.”
Ortal added that the sense of belonging she feels in Jerusalem cannot be compared to any other region of the world.
“I lived in the US for a yearand- a-half, and it was good and comfortable, but it wasn’t mine and I felt like a stranger,” she continued.
“But here I feel like I can do anything – like it’s my place, my home."
Nearby, on Ben-Yehuda Street, Alon Meir, who is haredi, sat next to a Torah that passersby stopped to kiss.
“Jerusalem is something else,” he said. “You go outside [the city] and you feel like you’re in a different country – even in Israel. Israel has different regions that are like sand, wind, water and fire, and Jerusalem is fire because it’s the House of God, and like the sun, the center of everything.”
Asked if tensions between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews in Jerusalem ever troubled him, Meir said he didn’t feel alienated, but added that members of his community genuinely dislike their non-observant neighbors.
“Not all the secular [Jews] behave the same way and not all of them hate religious people,” he said.
“But there are definitely religious people who dislike [secular Jews] because they’re afraid of them. They believe that if they truly believed in God, they would change their lives and stop doing what they want to do, and instead live by the Torah.”
Yoski Wander, an 80-year-old key-maker who was born and raised in Jerusalem, said that while he enjoys living in the capital and will celebrate Jerusalem Day, he still harbors resentment for many within the haredi community.
“Jerusalem is a great place, but there are too many [ultra-] Orthodox Jews and they don’t go to work, they have too many children, they don’t pay taxes and they don’t serve in the army,” he said.
“Because of them, we’re one of the poorest cities in Israel.”
Wander also expressed distaste toward Arabs, whom he said also drain the economy by not contributing enough.
“There are too many Arabs in Jerusalem,” he said. “Because of east Jerusalem, our financial situation is worse than it should be – the Arabs and [ultra-] Orthodox make it poor.”
Wagd Rlich, who works at a local food market in east Jerusalem, said he viewed Jerusalem Day as an ideological and economic intrusion that celebrates the Arab defeat in the Six Day War and forces Arabs to close all their shops in east Jerusalem against their will.
“Every year [on Jerusalem Day] the government and police force our shops to close and ask the Arab people not to make any trouble because so many Jews visit Jerusalem,” he said inside his east Jerusalem store.
“They bring a lot of soldiers here to make sure everything is closed, so we lose even more money,” he continued.
“This day is not a celebration for me because everyone knows about the occupation of 1967, and that the UN gave us this. On this day, you don’t see any Arabs because all the stores are closed, but we see Jews everywhere.
“We respect all people because we are all brothers, but we don’t respect the occupation and we hope and pray for peace everywhere, not just here. What’s important is the people, not the land.”
An east Jerusalem hardwarestore owner, who requested anonymity, said he also dreads the annual celebration because he loses business opportunities due to the forced closures.
“Every year it’s the same thing – they [Jews] march here and force us to close our shops,” he said outside his store’s doorway, near the Green Line.
“It means nothing to me because [Jerusalem] doesn’t belong to us. Thirty years ago there was more opportunity, but today there are not as many jobs and too many taxes. It’s a poor city.”
Finally, Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El- Hawa, a well-known east Jerusalem resident and activist who has traveled extensively around the globe to discuss the city’s challenges, expressed hope for the future of Jews and Arabs living side by side within the capital.
“Jerusalem belongs to God – not the Muslims, not the Jews and not the Christians,” he said.
“We have to believe we are all one, and not say, ‘It’s mine,’ because we are always a guest here. We have two mothers, but the same father, and the most important thing is the seed.
“I don’t understand the Green Line,” he said as he pointed to the partition.
“Who made it? God? No, man did. The biggest problem is that we don’t visit one another. We have built a wall between us.”
With respect to Jerusalem Day, Hawa, a father of 10 and grandfather of 32, said the Arab population has been neglected and displaced, and therefore are not truly citizens of the city.
“East Jerusalem is crying because it is not being taken care of by the West,” he said.
“People can’t just care about it once or twice a year, because we are suffering.”
According to ACRI, in 2012, the Interior Ministry revoked the status of 116 Palestinians from Jerusalem, and since 1967, the residency status of 14,263 has been revoked or rescinded.
The official Jerusalem Day commencement ceremony took place Tuesday night at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, in Kiryat Moshe. It was attended by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Housing Minister Uri Ariel as well as numerous rabbis and other officials.